New Rachel Carson Acquisitions

May 16th, 2012 by Catherine Fisher

This month Curator Cathleen Miller purchased five items to add to the small (but growing!) Rachel Carson manuscript collection at the MWWC. Three of the acquisitions originate around the time of the September, 1962, publication of Carson’s Silent Spring, her groundbreaking book that documented in detail for the first time the effects of pesticides and insecticides on the natural world. As 2012 marks the fiftieth anniversary of this work, which is widely credited with giving birth to the environmental movement in this country and around the world, we are particularly excited to make these items available for research here at the collection.

Already in our collection…

In adding to the professional portrait of Carson in our holdings, these new acquisitions lend balance to the more personal items of correspondence from that period that we already have, dating from 1963 to 1964 and contained in the Elizabeth Coatsworth collection. These intimate letters and notes from Carson to Maine poet and novelist Coatsworth and Coatsworth’s husband Henry Beston have given insight into the last months of Carson’s life (she died on April 14, 1964), showing her determination to keep moving despite being treated for the bone cancer that made her joints ache and walking difficult:

























And then, shortly after Carson’s death her longtime friend Dorothy Freeman wrote to Coatsworth and Beston:







And now, adding the professional to the personal…

It was just about a year before the earliest of these letters that Carson’s Silent Spring had been published and she was caught in an infamous media storm and chemical industry backlash. In June of 1962, before the September release of Silent Spring, Carson delivered the commencement address at Scripps College in Claremont, California. The date coincided with the publication in the New Yorker of the first of three articles excerpted from the forthcoming book and her speech, entitled “Of Man and the Stream of Time,” emphasized many of the same issues and ideas put forth in Silent Spring. Our newly acquired copy of this address, published by the Scripps College Bulletin, is accompanied by a signed note signed from Carson to one of her literary agents, Joan Daves, on Carson’s personal West Southport, Maine, stationery, indicating she was sending it along for copyright registration.










In the speech, Carson says to the young graduates of that women’s college:

“Man has long talked somewhat arrogantly about the conquest of nature…now he has the power to achieve his boast. It is our misfortune–it may well be our final tragedy–that this power has not been tempered with wisdom, but has been marked by irresponsibility; that there is all too little awareness that man is part of nature, and that the price of conquest may well be the destruction of man himself.”

A page from each the foreword by Frederick Hard, Scripps College President, and the speech itself:











The second item from that period that we have added to the collection is a photographer’s print of the iconic photograph of Carson taken by Erich Hartmann in Southport, Maine, in the spring of 1962. Posing for the jacket portrait that would accompany her serious warning to humankind, Carson leans against a dead tree, wearing binoculars, with her hands in her pockets, looking at the camera with what seems a confident gravity. Together with this photograph we acquired two 17 cent Rachel Carson postage stamps, bearing an illustrated version of the same Hartmann image and issued in 1981 as part of the Great Americans series.














The same Hartmann image shown above also is used on the cover of our third acquisition from that period, a pamphlet for an exhibition that took place at the Patten Free Library in Bath, Maine, the following year, August 19 to September 20, 1963. The inner two pages reprint “The Enduring Sea” from Carson’s The Edge of the Sea (published in 1955), and the rear cover has a full page of biographical notes. Our copy of this pamphlet is especially interesting as it has two handwritten corrections made in ink to Carson’s list of honors, possibly made by Carson herself and passed along to her longtime friend and agent, Joan Daves.











But a decade earlier…

As exciting as these new acquisitions from 1962-1963 are, perhaps even more intriguing are the earlier items Cathleen purchased: two pieces of 1950-51 correspondence from Carson to the aforementioned literary agent Joan Daves, who was the professional partner of Carson’s primary agent, Marie Rodell. Exciting on the face of it, these additions turn out to be even more interesting than one might gather at first glance because of the bit of professional drama at which they hint.

In 1950, Carson was working as a marine biologist at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Woods Hole, MA, getting ready to publish her second book, The Sea Around Us. In her biography entitled, Rachel Carson: The Life of the Author of Silent Spring (available at the Maine Women Writers Collection), Linda Lear describes the story of a project idea hatched by Carson but never brought to fruition. Fascinated by a collection of illustration plates housed in the Fish and Wildlife Service Library created in Mexico by American ornithologist, illustrator and artist Louis Agassiz Fuertes, Carson had the idea to create a catalog of the images and write an extended introduction to the book. Carson described the project to Daves’ professional partner, agent Marie Rodell, who agreed it was a good idea. She then solicited and received support from the Fish and Wildlife Service, but soon discovered that permissions from the Fuertes estate to reproduce the illustrations and payment for the rights were required. Carson contacted Fuertes’ daughter, Mary Fuertes Boynton, and all seemed good at first until, as Linda Lear explains,

“By winter of 1950, Mary Fuertes Boynton, the painter’s daughter and heir, had made it clear she intended to play a larger part in the project than Carson had anticipated. Carson’s efforts to clarify ownership of the paintings and her use of Fuertes’s correspondence to describe the context of each one had apparently alarmed Boynton, who now planned a biography of her father.”

This brings us to the first piece of correspondence from Rachel Carson to Joan Daves that we acquired from this time, a handwritten 1950 Christmas greeting card in which Carson refers to this shift, saying, “It seems there are many difficulties to be straightened out in the Fuertes matter, but perhaps something will come of it, after all.”









But hopes for this project were to unravel even further for Carson, as Lear explains:

“At the end of March (1951), Rachel had written Mary Boynton that Harper had agreed to publish the Fuertes bird paintings in the fall of 1952. Boynton unexpectedly replied that she had decided to edit the book herself since she no longer considered Carson the best choice of author or editor because she had not known Fuertes…

“Boynton not only fired Carson from a project she had initiated but had the audacity to write Carson’s boss, Fish and Wildlife Director Dr. Albert Day, informing him of her decision to remove Carson. Boynton gave no other reason for her change of heart except to quote the opinion of one of her father’s ornithologist friends, George Sutton, who had asked, ‘What does Carson know either about Fuertes or about birds?’

“Rachel was furious. On April 3 she responded to Boynton.

‘It is too bad you have waited until now to make your true position known. The choice of an author for any such book is seldom determined by the desires or willingness of prospective writers to undertake it, and in this instance the decision is in the hands of the Fish and Wildlife Service and the publishers. I do not feel that further discussion of this subject between you and me will serve any useful purpose.’

This brings us to our second piece of newly acquired correspondence from Carson to Daves, a typewritten, signed letter dated July 30, 1951. In it Carson describes her early discussion of the plates with Boynton and refers to what has become now an ongoing conflict, saying, “If Mrs. Boynton does publish her book, she will undoubtedly use some illustrations from her father’s work, but that doesn’t seem to be anything to be concerned about.”

In this letter Carson sounds unworried, but the way Lear describes it, as the controversy wore on Carson was loath to let the matter rest:

“…Rachel was stunned by Boynton’s inexplicable change of mind. She despised personal confrontations, but she was angry, too, and stood her ground, refusing to abandon the book…Considering all the pressures on Carson with the imminent publication of The Sea Around Us, her pending leave of absence [for a Guggenheim fellowship], and the need to begin work on the shore guide, it would have been simpler if she had walked away from the Fuertes project. But Boynton’s insinuations insulted Carson’s reputation as a naturalist and a professional writer…The controversy with Boynton and the Fuertes estate dragged on until February 1953, at which point Carson bowed out. The Fish and Wildlife Service continued adjudicating its interest in the paintings, but by then Carson was committed to other more important literary efforts. In the end, the primary reason Rachel dropped the Fuertes book was her personal distaste for any further dealings with Mary Boynton.”

 The references made to the Fuertes project in these two new additions to our Rachel Carson collection hint intriguingly enough at the matter to prompt one to dig a bit for the more complex story behind them. Illumination of this professional conflict sheds important light on the character of Carson at this early stage in her literary and ecology career, showing a strength and determination that would serve her in her personal health battles and see her through conflict on a much larger professional scale, with the eventual publication of Silent Spring.